The sergeant major of the Marine Corps issued a letter to all Marines on Friday trying to explain his recent congressional testimony in which he said Marines preferred better equipment over high pay and that lowering pay raises would improve discipline.
Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps Micheal Barrett said his words were misreported, which caused Marines to believe he doesn't care about their quality of life and level of pay.
"Recent reporting of my testimony may have left you with a mistaken impression that I don't care about your quality of life and that I support lower pay for service members. This is not true," Barrett wrote in the letter.
However, he maintained that the growth in pay and benefits must be slowed down in order to ensure the Corps can pay for better equipment.
"Nobody wants less. ... But if we don't slow the growth of our hard-earned generous compensation/benefit entitlements that we have enjoyed over the past decade, we don't have sufficient dollars for what we need -- investment in our warfighting capabilities and our wonderful Marine and family care programs," Barrett wrote.
The top enlisted Marine's letter comes following a backlash from Marines who responded harshly to Barrett's statement to Congress saying he supported the proposal for a 1 percent pay raise for service members. The 1 percent raise would be the lowest raise in years for troops and would fail to keep up with inflation.
Barrett is only the latest Pentagon leader to tell Congress that pay and benefits need to be either reduced or slowed down. Pentagon brass have made the case that personnel costs must come down to maintain readiness. The service secretaries and chiefs have repeatedly pointed out that pay and benefits represent the fastest-growing portion of their budgets.
The sergeant major of the Marine Corps' testimony especially stood out because he told Congress last Wednesday that lower pay would improve discipline within the Corps.
"I truly believe it will raise discipline," Barrett told the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel. "You'll have better spending habits. You won't be so wasteful."
Barrett told lawmakers that Marines have "never had it so good" in his three decades of service when describing the benefits packages and level of pay.
"If we don't get a hold of slowing the growth, we will become an entitlement-based, a health care provider-based Corps, and not a warfighting organization," Barrett said.
In Friday's letter, Barrett told Marines that now is a time that requires sacrifice and selflessness.
"The responsibilities put on your shoulders are great -- from standards and discipline, to giving orders to kill, to risk being killed yourself. I know that you will continue to be selfless. I know you will continue to sacrifice for one another. I know you will continue to succeed during these times and the tough times that lay ahead," Barrett wrote.
The top enlisted Marine had explained that Marines would prefer funding directed toward ensuring they had the latest equipment and highest level of training rather than worrying about pay and benefits. He said Marines don't ask him about pay or retirement packages, they ask him about the mission.
"Marines don't run around [asking] about compensation, benefits, retirement modernization. That's not on their minds," Barrett told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday. "As I walk around to talk to the thousands [in] audiences, they want to know into whose neck do we put a boot next. They want to know about what new equipment are we getting."
Marines and their family members have unleashed a wave of anger on social media and statements from advocacy groups following Barrett's comments to Congress.
"I also don't recall anyone asking me or my fellow comrades if we wanted to take a pay cut," a Miltiary.com reader wrote in the comments section of an article about Barrett's comments to Congress.
Like other Pentagon officials who have lobbied for the reduced pay raise for service members, Barrett was unable to provide any data other than personal interactions to support their conclusion that service members are more worried about equipment and training versus pay.
Lawmakers have pushed back, asking military officials why they are making these recommendations without waiting for the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission, which is expected to turn in its review and recommendation a year from now.
-- Michael Hoffman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.